Harley-Davidson’s 21st century vision that began with Project Rushmore’s liquid-cooled V-twin and then carried over with the recent introduction of the world-friendly Street 750 and 500 has continued with the surprise announcement of Project LiveWire, an electric motorcycle prototype the Motor Company plans to lay bare this summer with a 30-city demo tour across the U.S.
At a press event in New York City, the LiveWire surprised us again, proving agile, powerful and fun to ride. Without a single exception, the assembled moto-media were impressed with the bike’s performance, ease of use and fit and finish. Even members of the local HOG chapter were invited to test-ride the LiveWire and, except for a few grumbles, their reaction was overwhelmingly positive.
First ride impression? The LiveWire is dimensionally akin to an entry-level standard, with light weight and a low seat height. The hand controls are typical Harley-Davidson and, combined with the low seat and slightly rearset foot controls, provide a comfortable riding position. Instrumentation comes via a bar-mounted TFT display that’s easy to discern and comprehend. Torque is available from a dead stop, and the LiveWire jumped into Manhattan traffic quickly and fluidly. Throttle response is tempered to start smoothly and get snappier with speed. The longitudinally mounted, computer-optimized motor uses a series of sprockets and drives to convert power to the rear wheel, and the meshing of gears in the spiral-beveled gearbox produces a cool, Batcycle-like whine that increases in resonance with the motorcycle’s momentum. It was a happy R&D accident, but Harley liked the distinctive sound so much it has spent considerable resources on its refinement. For this rider, it not only distinguishes the bike from the competition but also provides comforting feedback, a sense of torque and velocity that other electric motorcycles sorely lack.
Harley didn’t release any exact specifications on Project LiveWire, except to say the prototype makes about 74 horsepower and 52 lb-ft of torque (comparable to its 883 Sportster engine, which has claimed torque of 53.8 lb-ft), and goes from 0 to 60 in under 4 seconds, with a governed top speed of 92 mph. I put the seat height at about 30 inches, and would guess it comes in under 500 pounds. The majority of any electric bike’s weight resides in its battery, however, and a production LiveWire would need a stronger, denser and heavier power cell than the current lithium-ion battery, which gives the bike a range of about 53 miles. Harley did boast that the cast aluminum frame weighs 14 pounds, eight pounds lighter than that of a Zero, and that the hollow-spoked wheels are the lightest it’s ever manufactured.
Great for the city, the LiveWire leans eagerly and quickly thanks to its low center of gravity. The fully adjustable, inverted Showa fork and cantilevered single shock are set up stiffly. The single front disc brake worked great, although simply dumping throttle slows the LiveWire considerably via “engine braking.” Braking is regenerative, supplementing battery power.
You can try LiveWire yourself this summer (visit projectlivewire.com for the full tour schedule and to make a ride
reservation). Harley-Davidson says the goal of the tour is to get customer feedback on what they want from an electric bike, and the specs will evolve accordingly if and when the bike goes into production. For the most iconic motorcycle brand in the world, Project LiveWire demonstrates a refreshing desire to think outside the box.
(This Kickstarts article was published in the September 2014 issue of Rider magazine.)